My association with the Arlin M. Adams Center provided a number of opportunities to apply what I have learned in the classroom to real-world situations. During the summer prior to my senior year, I received support from the Adams Center that allowed me to participate in the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing's County Parole Guideline Research Initiative.
My role in the project required that I work daily at the Adult Probation Department in Northumberland County, Pa., to compile data on a total of 82 mid-level offenders. To do so required reading through files of convicted offenders to gather demographic and other types of information pertinent to understanding the fate of Pennsylvania's lawbreakers.
In particular, we were interested in collecting information about the causes and consequences of probation or parole revocation. Ultimately, the data we collected will be used by the state to rethink its sentencing policies.
Over the course of the summer, I learned a great deal about the practical consequences of Pennsylvania's sentencing policies and about procedures associated with crime and punishment in the U.S. more generally.
Perhaps most importantly, I observed the ways in which socioeconomic status seems to play a role in how individuals experience state punishment. For example, it was impossible not to note how many times offenders found themselves before the court based on their inability to pay fines and penalties associated with probation/parole stemming from previous offenses.
It seems that a cycle of revocation and reincarceration can often be understood as a function of offenders' economic disadvantage. I also found it very interesting to observe how probation officers themselves interacted with their probationers/parolees and how they understood their position and duties as enforcers of the law.
Moreover, my experiences in the context to the sentencing commission project have led me to take a more critical approach to how I understand the penal system in particular and the organizations and institutions that most of us understand as "egalitarian" more generally.